Holocene climate, fire and vegetation dynamics at the treeline in the Northwestern Swiss Alps

Schwörer, Christoph; Kaltenrieder, Petra; Glur, Lukas; Berlinger, Matthias; Elbert, Julie; Frei, Stephanie; Gilli, Adrian; Hafner, Albert; Anselmetti, Flavio S.; Grosjean, Martin; Tinner, Willy (2014). Holocene climate, fire and vegetation dynamics at the treeline in the Northwestern Swiss Alps. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany, 23(5), pp. 479-496. Springer 10.1007/s00334-013-0411-5

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Treelines are expected to rise to higher elevations with climate warming; the rate and extent however are still largely unknown. Here we present the first multi-proxy palaeoecological study from the treeline in the Northwestern Swiss Alps that covers the entire Holocene. We reconstructed climate, fire and vegetation dynamics at Iffigsee, an alpine lake at 2,065 m a.s.l., by using seismic sedimentary surveys, loss on ignition, visible spectrum reflectance spectroscopy, pollen, spore, macrofossil and charcoal analyses. Afforestation with Larix decidua and tree Betula (probably B. pendula) started at ~9,800 cal. b.p., more than 1,000 years later than at similar elevations in the Central and Southern Alps, indicating cooler temperatures and/or a high seasonality. Highest biomass production and forest position of ~2,100–2,300 m a.s.l. are inferred during the Holocene Thermal Maximum from 7,000 to 5,000 cal. b.p. With the onset of pastoralism and transhumance at 6,800–6,500 cal. b.p., human impact became an important factor in the vegetation dynamics at Iffigsee. This early evidence of pastoralism is documented by the presence of grazing indicators (pollen, spores), as well as a wealth of archaeological finds at the nearby mountain pass of Schnidejoch. Human and fire impact during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages led to the establishment of pastures and facilitated the expansion of Picea abies and Alnus viridis. We expect that in mountain areas with land abandonment, the treeline will react quickly to future climate warming by shifting to higher elevations, causing drastic changes in species distribution and composition as well as severe biodiversity losses.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)

Division/Institute:

08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography > Physical Geography > Unit Paleolimnology
10 Strategic Research Centers > Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research (OCCR)
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geological Sciences
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS) > Palaeoecology
06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of History and Archaeology > Institute of Archaeological Sciences > Pre- and Early History
08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS)

Graduate School:

Graduate School of Climate Sciences

UniBE Contributor:

Schwörer, Christoph; Boltshauser-Kaltenrieder, Petra; Glur, Lukas; Elbert, Julie; Hafner, Albert; Anselmetti, Flavio; Grosjean, Martin and Tinner, Willy

Subjects:

500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology
900 History > 910 Geography & travel
500 Science > 580 Plants (Botany)
900 History > 930 History of ancient world (to ca. 499)

ISSN:

0939-6314

Publisher:

Springer

Language:

English

Submitter:

Albert Hafner-Lafitte

Date Deposited:

11 Apr 2014 14:49

Last Modified:

25 Nov 2015 09:25

Publisher DOI:

10.1007/s00334-013-0411-5

Uncontrolled Keywords:

Palaeoecology, Treeline, Human impact, Vegetation history, Alps, Afforestation

BORIS DOI:

10.7892/boris.48618

URI:

https://boris.unibe.ch/id/eprint/48618

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